To Eat ‘Snacks Or Snakes?’ Discover The Idiosyncrasies Of Bhutanese English


Bhutanese English differs from standard English not only in terms of its accent and pronunciation but also in the usage of words while speaking and writing.

Young students learning English in Bhutan. (Source: Conor Ashleigh)


By Tshering Dorji | Kuensel

English was introduced to Bhutan after the 1960s when the once reclusive nation started to open itself to the outside world during the reign of His Majesty The Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck.

Even though the national language of Bhutan is Dzongkha (with roots from the Tibetan language family), English is actually the medium of instruction in schools throughout the country.

Some interesting features of Bhutanese English

In Bhutan, a Member of Parliament was once trolled on social media for serving ‘snakes’ instead of ‘snacks’ and Facebook users usually write ‘congress’ when they actually meant to say ‘congrats’.

Moreover, phrases like - today itself, on top of that, pass out, bunk, pre-pone, and the use of redundant words such as ‘each and every’, ‘I myself’, and ‘until and unless’ among others, are some examples of the idiosyncrasies of Bhutanese English.

These words and phrases would be unrecognisable to native English speakers. Bhutanese English differs from standard English not only in terms of its accent and pronunciation but also in the usage of words while speaking and writing. 

How did Bhutanese English originate?

These common errors, according to a former lecturer, Jude Polky’s research paper from the College of Language and Cultural Studies (CLCS), are the results of the migration of Indian English to Bhutan.

The research is an outcome of the author’s own difficulties faced and experienced during her four-years of teaching at the CLCS.

While the Indian style of education dominated the country’s schools, the paper states that Indian teachers who have taught in Bhutan were not first language English speakers themselves.



43 senior retired Indian teachers who have served in Bhutan were invited as guests of honour to celebrate Teachers’ Day at Changlingmithang, Thimphu on 2 May 2018. The year 2018 is special as it coincides with 50 years of establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan. The history of modern education of Bhutan is closely linked and intertwined with the history of partnership and friendship between India and Bhutan.

Photo: Kuensel


Thus, many brought with them significant grammar and pronunciation errors as well as idiosyncrasies that are common across the Indian subcontinent and Bhutan.

“It is not a simple task to change language styles and habits that have been employed since the introduction of English in Bhutan,” it stated.

How was Jude Polky’s research conducted?

About 470 CLCS students were selected as participants for the research. These students were made to write essays, letters, and deliver oral presentations among others.

It was discovered that more than 70 percent of the letters studied for this research reflect a certain florid style, often beginning with - With due respect and humble request under your kind consideration and sympathetic action please.

This usage of ‘overly’ formal language and tone, Jude Polsky wrote, is strikingly similar to the style of Indian English.

Many of the errors in Bhutanese English, according to the research, also reflected the legacy of the East India Company, while the others have their genesis in translation from Hindi and other Indian languages.

The paper also pointed out that statements such as “I’m going to Trongsa” will often elicit the response “is it?” instead of “are you?”

Bhutan is making effort to ‘distance’ itself from the Indian style of education

Pronunciation and the lack of stress, are also some of the barriers for communication between a native English speaker and a Bhutanese.

Although many errors in English may have some basis in translation from Dzongkha and other local languages, the research actually stated that the majority of the more persistent errors have their foundations in India, influenced by the complexities of British Colonisation.

Many teachers also viewed the students’ participation as a sign of ‘loss of teacher’ control in a classroom.

To compound the problem, it was also discovered that most students are resistant to change. This may hinder Bhutanese university students’ future opportunities for employment. It may also affect their chances of being accepted by universities abroad.

To solve this issue, the Royal University of Bhutan is attempting to distance itself from the Indian style of education - didactic chalk and talk teaching.


This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.


Related Posts

More Than A Language – Dzongkha Is A Vital Element Of Bhutan’s...

Dzongkha is our national language – one of the binding forces that will ultimately define our destiny as a nation.

Jan 01, 2019 08:01

Promoting the Use of Dzongkha in Bhutan

The royal decree stated that the government placed the highest importance to preserve and promote Dzongkha since it is...

Mar 01, 2018 12:41

Women In Ramthangka, Bhutan Pick Up New Languages Such As Korean...

With tourists visiting the site at all hours of the day and almost every day, the women in Ramthangka are most often...

Sep 22, 2018 15:03

Japanese Language and Judo Centres to be Established in Bhutan

At the meeting with Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay in Tokyo, the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe said that Japan would...

Apr 19, 2018 00:21

73 Year Old Non-Formal Education Instructor Wants To Continue...

At 73, Serchung is one of the oldest non-formal education (NFE) instructors in Bhutan today.

Dec 16, 2018 01:09

My Green School – Book By Bhutanese Educator Thakur S Powdyel,...

Professor Miwako Hosoda believes that ‘My Green School’ will be of much interest to students, educators and researchers.

Dec 02, 2018 09:31



Their Majesties, Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering And Other Dignitaries Of Bhutan Offered Prayers For Sri Lanka

His Majesty also sent a message of condolence to the President of Sri Lanka, Maithripala Sirisena, expressing the solidarity of the people...

Apr 24, 2019 20:08

WFP Shifts Focus To Capacity Development In Nutrition And Disaster Preparedness In Bhutan

The decision was made after consultations with Bhutan's government, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Apr 19, 2019 13:02


How Bhutan Changed My Life: Tamiki Nakashima

Tamiki Nakashima, who is from Japan, speaks about how life is like for him while living in Bhutan.

Apr 25, 2019 11:11

Addressing Some Challenges As Bhutan Prepares For Rise In Tourist Arrivals

The gross receipt from tourism is expected to increase from Nu 10.6 billion in 2018 to about Nu 39.16 billion in the next five years.

Apr 23, 2019 17:40


Bhutan To Hold First 'Sports And Culture Festival' For Runners And Cyclists

There are two tiers to the event, comprising of a full-race distance of 50km and a half-race of 25km.

Mar 06, 2019 17:14

Bhutan’s HRH Princess Eeuphelma Choden Wangchuck Attended The General Assembly of the Asian Paralympic Committee In Dubai

The General Assembly is the highest decision making body of the Asian Paralympic Movement.

Feb 08, 2019 18:15


Celebrating Bhutan's Entrepreneurs: Kinley Dema Of BuBu Bakery, Lobesa

This story is part of an exclusive feature by Yeewong Magazine in Dec 2018 on celebrating entrepreneurship in Bhutan.

Apr 20, 2019 19:18

Celebrating Bhutan's Entrepreneurs: Sonam Choden of Rolling Pin Bakery in Thimphu

This story is part of an exclusive feature by Yeewong Magazine in Dec 2018 on celebrating entrepreneurship in Bhutan.

Apr 11, 2019 11:08


Can Bhutan Take Its Happiness Brand To The Next Level?

Two key challenges: galvanising citizens as brand ambassadors and applying brand recognition to growth sectors.

Apr 21, 2019 10:40

The Magical Waters Of Gasa Tsachu – A Popular Hot Spring In Bhutan

While most people visit the hot spring in the hope that it could cure them of various ailments, it has become an annual visit for many to...

Mar 25, 2019 14:38


Food Review: Cloud9 Cafe & Bar

Cloud9 has always been known in Thimphu for dishing out handcrafted gourmet burgers.

Mar 09, 2019 09:44

Tshering Zangmo Represents Bhutan At The 5th Young Chef Olympiad In India

Tshering Zangmo has successfully made it to round two of the Olympiad.

Feb 04, 2019 16:35

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!